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October 17, 2016

Booklovers Have a FABS-ulous Time at Libraries

By Cindy Carroll

Booklovers can find something for everyone in Carnegie Mellon's libraries.

Fifty-eight members of the Fellowship of American Bibliophilic Societies (FABS) visited Pittsburgh in May during FABS' annual book tour and symposium, which highlights special book collections in a different city each year.

John Block, publisher of the Post-Gazette and a noted bibliophile, offered to host a tour in Pittsburgh.

"Many attending had no idea that Pittsburgh has become such a wonderful place to visit," said FABS President David Culbert.

FABS members are lobbyists for old books, said John Schulman, co-owner of Caliban Books in Oakland in a recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article. "They are interested in advancing the idea of the book, its aesthetics, its history, and the fact that it is still the ideal way to read anything," the newspaper quoted him as saying.

The group spent most of one day enjoying some of the treasures to be seen in the Posner Center, Hunt Library's Fine and Rare Book Room, and Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation.

At the Posner Center, dean of University Libraries Gloriana St. Clair spoke about the lifetime collecting interests of Henry Posner Sr. (1888-1976), who created the Posner family collection, as well as the unique contributions of his son, Henry Posner Jr. (1918-2011).

The younger Posner conveyed the collection on long-term loan to Carnegie Mellon, built the Posner Center to insure its preservation, digitized the works for universal access, and funded a student internship program to research and mount biannual exhibits. Ongoing stewardship and the internship program are coordinated by the libraries with the Posner Fine Arts Foundation, created by him.

Assisted by special collections librarian Mary Kay Johnsen and arts library associate Maranda Reilly, St. Clair discussed and displayed favorite items from the collection, which included a 1792 copy of the U.S. Bill of Rights; a Latin translation of Columbus' 1493 letter to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain published in 1494; and Copernicus' "De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, Libri VI," published in 1543.

Johnsen entertained the FABS group with a hands-on tour of the Fine and Rare Book Room in Hunt Library, which included a folio of the Kelmscott Chaucer published by William Morris in 1896, "Passion" with color woodcuts by Georges Rouault published in 1939, and a charming collection of nearly 200 miniature books.

Culbert said that being able to turn the pages of very valuable books without wearing gloves was a thrill for the attendees.

Concluding the Carnegie Mellon portion of the tour, archivist Angela Todd and librarian Charlotte Tancin displayed items from the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation in the Hunt Library penthouse.

"The Hunt Botanical Collection is truly the finest in the world," Culbert said. "We were delighted with what we were able to see, and the kindness with which we were treated."

Todd talked about Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt, whose extraordinary personal library of books, prints, and documents on botany and horticulture seeded the institute in 1961. Showing photos of Hunt and displaying her heavily annotated 1895 copy of "How to Know the Wild Flowers" by Frances T. Parsons, Todd also recounted Hunt's particular research into the work of Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717).

Tancin exhibited 30 rare historic herbals, books and folios from the collection, including the 1485 German herbal "Gart der Gesundheit" and Pierre Joseph Redouté's masterpiece, "Les Roses," published 1817-1824. She related how Hunt's collection came to be at Carnegie Mellon, and also displayed more than a dozen books elegantly bound by her.

"We really loved what we saw and the enthusiasm and love with which library personnel showed us materials, answered our questions fully, and acted as though they were delighted to see us, no matter how many other things they have to do at this time of year," Culbert said.

Additional stops on the tour included the home of CMU Distinguished Career Professor Michael Shamos, a billiards expert who has a diverse collection of pool memorabilia; the University of Pittsburgh's Center for American Music; and Block's Shadyside home for a reception and tour of his climate-controlled rare book library.